It was so nice and quiet when I got into my tent. I felt relaxed knowing that this was the last night out and that tomorrow we would be finished. I think only seconds passed from the time I got into my sleeping bag before I fell asleep. That sleep didn’t last long. I woke up to this loud duck like noise. It was not only loud but was continuous. How could this be? There was not a single duck anywhere in sight when we setup camp. Now there seemed to be thousands of them and they were all making this weird noise. It was like a mix between a chirp and a quack. The noise was so loud it felt like they were right outside my tent. I felt that if I pulled the tent fly back I would have all these ducks standing there looking at me. I was hoping they would stop but after several minutes I gave up on that thought. So I flung open the tent fly to see nothing but the ground. I couldn’t believe it. These noisy ducks weren’t on the island but out in the water. Maybe they were pissed off that Rod and I were on the island and they wanted to be. I could barely make out this dark-colored spot a coupe of yards out in the water that seemed to be the source of the noise. Still determine to silence these noisy things I found a small branch that had some weight to it and slung it out towards the spot. I heard it hit the water and a fraction of a second later the noise level in the area went up big time. It seemed like all heck was breaking loose. Bird, ducks, what ever they were took flight in a big way. They were screeching,quacking and joy joy flying right over the island. All I could think of was ” Take Cover !! Incoming Bird Poop and lots of it. Don’t look up and don’t open your mouth “. I guess the branch hitting the water scared them enough because the rest of the night was quiet. I slept right through until the alarm woke me up. No problem getting up this morning because in six hours we would be finishing.
There was no wind when we pushed off. It was still dark and the early in the morning. My hands had the normal two hours of burning pain but it just didn’t seem that difficult to deal with today. As we paddled south we entered waters that I have paddled in quite a bit so the sights were a welcome sign that we were almost finished. It was about two hours out from Ft Desoto that the winds picked up and guess what, they were right in our face. Why would we expect any different from this difficult challenge? We started with the winds in our face and now we must finished with the winds in our face. Luckily we could use the buildings in this area as some winds break. Rod was paddling very strong so I ended up just drafting off him in areas that we could not get into the lee of a building. The sight of the Don Caesar hotel was a biggie. The Don is a big pink hotel on the south side of St Petersburg Beach. This landmark is very close to the last big pass before getting to Ft Desoto. As we paddled around Pass-A-Grille we had a navigation choice to make. Go out into the Gulf Of Mexico through the North Channel Pass and then come back into Ft Desoto through Bounce Pass or, take the South Channel and work our way through the shallows around a place called Sawyer Island. The waters in this area are very shallow but are also very protected. Oh and this route would be shorter. The kicker on this route was would there be enough water depth for us to get through if the tide was going out. Nothing like being hard aground in the middle of a mud flat, within sight of the finish, and with people waiting for us. Sure enough the tide was going out but as we looked across the flats we didn’t see any mud, just water. The question we could not answer was how much. Ahhh heck with it let’s go for it ! As we entered the south channel we got lucky. There was a standup paddle boarder that had just come across from Ft Desoto. He pointed us to where the deepest water was to make it across the shallows. Great we have got this.
As we paddle to the finished beach Rod and I started to talk about whether anyone would be there to greet us. I know in past UFCs some of the finishers finished to just their love ones. Finishing the UFC is different from the Everglades Challenge where all the finishers wait until everyone is finished and then there is an awards ceremony. Just not practical to expect this for the UFC. I knew one person that would be there and that would be Lisa. I also figured that Chief would be there with his trusty video camera to document our finish. Other than that I didn’t know . As we got closer we could make out some bright colors on the beach. Hmmmmmm what is that? Then we started to see some people, lots of people moving around. Hmmmm Then we saw some of the people waving at us. Heyyyyy those people are here to welcome us. This is a video of us coming in that Salty Frog took.
Even today I find it hard to describe the waves of emotions I started to experience at that moment. Those emotions didn’t stop when we landed out canoes on the beach at Ft Desoto. I was really over whelmed by who was at the beach that day. There was Chief. There were WaterTribes who have never done the UFC but who knew us and had travel long distances to be there. There were WaterTribers who were past finishers of the UFC who had also travel long distances to greet us. There were coworkers from the company that I work for who had taken time off from work to greet us. There were family members who had also taken time off from work. There was my wife, Lisa, who had been there through this entire UFC and who had her own adventure trying to provide support . All those folks greeting us drove home the fact that we were truly home. It made the finish so special and I will always be very grateful to all those folks for making that happen. I am not sure how you thank folks for doing something like that but for sure you can say “Thank You” ” Thank You” “Thank You.” Having experienced that feeling I know that I will always make it a priority to be there on that beach to greet future UFC finishers.
As I secured my canoe on the trailer and packed my gear into the truck it felt a little odd. My life for the past 28 days had been in this canoe and now it was coming to an end. It wasn’t a sad feeling just a little odd. Rod was packing his canoe on a friend’s vehicle and getting ready to leave. This was odd also. How do you say good-by to someone I had spent so much time with and had been through so much? I think for both of us we found it easier to just make it short. ” It has been great.”” Thanks for sharing this experience with me.””Travel safe going home “. After a quick shower I sat down at a bench that over looked the beach we had finished on and had some lunch. Lisa had brought some fried chicken, I love fired chicken, fresh fruit, and a cold coke. It was done. We had completed the UFC even with all the difficult weather. It was time for all of us that had been involved in this great adventure to relax, reflect and to heal.
Note : This is not my last blog entry. I have three more blog entries I am going to post on this great adventure: (1) Why I do these things and life after the UFC (2) Rod and (3) What worked and what didn’t work.